Interview with Berlin Boudouri Studio’s Founder, Monika Kozub
Monika Kozub started her photography career as a “human selfie stick” for travelers. Upon moving from Amsterdam to Berlin, she soon realized most of her clientele ended up being women of whom were mostly ‘body shy’ behind the camera. It was then that Monika combined her understanding of body image issues, having experienced them before in her past, with her desire to fight unreasonable beauty standards with her creativity to found Berlin Boudoir Studio just this past January.
She’s done a lot in just half a year, and we wanted to know exactly how she’s done it all. So we met with Monika to learn more about what led her to build such a sexy brand that’s all about empowering badass sexy women.
When did you come to Berlin and what brought you here initially?
I came to Berlin in September 2017. Together with my boyfriend, we were looking for a more affordable place to live than Amsterdam where we were previously living. Our good friends were already settled here in Berlin, and invited us to come check out and get to know the city to see if we liked it. As you can see, we sure did! And even more, we found an apartment just a few buildings away from our friends. The universe really helped us to feel at home here right from the very beginning.
One of the biggest challenges when arriving here is finding a network of friends and collaborators. Did you struggle with this? What were some things that helped you to expand your network here?
As mentioned above, we started our Berlin journey having our closest friends as next door neighbors. So, I’d say we definitely lucked out with that.
But collaborators and friends are not necessarily the same people. As an entrepreneur, I feel that you need to network a lot. You need to just get out there and meet people. Or start the networking online, then act upon it to actually meet the people you're virtually chatting with in real life. I used all the tools available: Facebook groups, Meetup, Bumble Business to grow my network. I’m a photographer and in general for creative people like myself, the work you get is mostly based on your contacts. There aren’t any job listings for photographers like there are for web developers so you really do need to go out and get to know people first hand. There really isn’t a shortcut.
When and how did the idea for Berlin Boudoir Studio come about?
It was a long process that led me to founding Berlin Boudoir. When living in Amsterdam, I started working as an ‘experience host’ on Airbnb. I took photos of travelers, providing them with high quality pictures from their vacation. Someone even called me "a human selfie stick.”
This testimonial really struck a chord with me, portraits taken in this ‘selfie-esque’ light were far from what I was taught about photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in my home town of Krakow. Yet, it changed the way I saw photography. For me, it became no longer necessary for a photo to be amazing for everyone, as it is very often the case with fine art photography. Instead, if it is a meaningful photo for just one person, then I did my job as a photographer.
So I continued being an Airbnb experience host with this new mindset upon moving to Berlin, and around 90% of my bookings were women. I saw so many gorgeous gals feeling intimidated and shy in front of the camera. Some felt that they weren’t beautiful enough to be photographed professionally. I knew exactly what they were feeling, as I had struggled with my own body image for several years.
It was then after these intimate talks about self love and body image, and experiencing the joy my photos brought them, when they realized that they don't have to change anything about themselves to look and feel amazing. So, of course, I connected the dots.
As a woman I could tell them, "I know how you feel. I've been there myself."
But as a photographer I could add, "Now let me show you that you are beautiful and worthy of being photographed. And I have the photos to prove it."
I knew I wanted Berlin Boudoir to be a sensual, intimate, and empowering experience; a chance for a woman to get connected with her own body and celebrate it in that very moment.
Has founding the studio helped you to feel more rooted in Berlin? Do you feel that it's supported you in "finding your people" / expanding your network?
Definitely. I started the project in January this year and it feels like ages ago in terms of where I am now; having actual clients, a brand identity, a vision to fight unreasonable beauty standards, and empower women with all my creative forces. In April, I joined the first edition of the Goldup program for female entrepreneurs organized by The Family in Berlin. It helped me get the momentum in its five week intense launching course, as well as meet other badass women. There's nothing more empowering than seeing other women succeed in following their dreams. It made me feel that I can also do it, too.
Do you have any advice for new expats in Berlin in regards to reaching out and finding like-minded people to collaborate and socialize with?
I think starting small is the best way to do it. Try your idea first with the people you already know on social media. In the online era that we are, we tend to forget how much word of mouth can help boost our business. Then reach out to people by any means you have. There's no wrong way to do it. I've recently listened to Whitney Wolfe, the founder of Bumble, recalling how she used to walk around a university campus and ask people to download the app. Whatever works, do it, I would say.
As the founder of Berlin Boudoir Studio, do you have any advice for other newcomers who are considering starting their own businesses and projects?
Don't wait, start now. As a perfectionist myself, it was a hard lesson for me, but when I decided to actually launch, it was only then when the real magic happened. When you have an idea and you're passionate about it, people won't care if the execution is imperfect. They'll see that you're authentic and dedicated and that's the only thing that really matters. You'll figure out the details on the go, because you'll also never be able to predict all the hurdles along the way.
The “Lost to Found” series showcases several amazing Berlin-based organizations run by expat women, with goals exactly like Cluster’s: bringing people together to learn and grow.